Why Apple will build a ‘cheap’ iPhone in 2013

There has been a great deal of discussion around whether Apple will release a cheaper iPhone or not. Many of those who say Apple won’t, seem to believe that to do so would mean Apple are cheapening the brand. Many of the rumors talk of such an iPhone being made of ‘cheaper materials’, such as plastic, and this implies a low-quality product.

I disagree, and I’m almost positive Apple will release a cheaper iPhone in 2013. The argument that Apple will not release a cheaper version starts to fall apart when you look at the company’s product history. Indeed, it’s hard to see a product other than the iPhone for which Apple has not offered less expensive options. Going back to the early iPod lineup, Apple released the iPod mini just three years after the original iPods. These were designed to be cheaper, and certainly had less storage than the fullsize iPods of the time. The original iPod when it came out in 2001 had 5GB of storage, and by 2004 when the iPod mini was released the standard iPod line was coming in 20 and 40GB versions. The first iPod minis had 4GB, less storage than the 3 year old original iPod. Many said nobody would buy it, yet the iPod mini quickly became a massive success, outselling the fullsize iPods.

Similarly, with the laptop lines, Apple has always offered at least a few options. We’ve had combinations of iBook, MacBook, MacBook Pro, and MacBook Air over the last decade, all with vastly different form factors, prices, and features.

A more recent hardware example is the iPad. Only this year Apple released the iPad mini, which looks to now be outselling the fullsize iPad. The fact that Apple are releasing cheaper versions of devices does not scare me at all. The iPod minis were a staggering success story, and it looks like the iPad mini is similarly off to an amazing start.

So, if you look at the hardware, the iPhone stands out because it is really the only Apple device that doesn’t come in multiple offerings. Remember, the iPod mini came out only three years after the fullsize iPod. It’s been six years now since the original iPhone came out… I think we’re overdue for a smaller, or cheaper version.

A second point is that, to Apple, cheaper does not mean low-quality. When the iPod mini came out it was in brushed metal rather than the plastic of the fullsize version. It felt like, and was, an extremely high-quality device. When the iPod nano came out it reverted to plastic again, and yet it too felt high-quality device, and started to outsell the iPod mini. Whether metal or plastic, Apple’s products never feel low-quality.

Finally, with Apple expanding into China the time is right for a lower-cost iPhone. The mobile phone market in China is very different than the US. Most customers save up and buy their mobile phones outright, and are not on contracts that subsidize the purchase price.

So, I certainly think a lower-cost iPhone is coming. Whether this is the iPhone mini or goes by a different name doesn’t really matter, but I do think it will be here in 2013. If it is, the most likely release date would be around the release of iOS 7, as this would allow for the major point update in the software to include many changes that may be required for such a device. This would place the release date sometime in summer 2013. iOS 7 betas are likely to start being seen around April or May, and when they are I’ll be examining the files in it to see if I can find any mention of new iPhone devices.